Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Think You Own the Book You Bought for Your Kindle? You Don’t, Says Amazon.

1984Buy an e-book for Amazon’s Kindle recently? You might want to check to see if it’s still on your device. Kindle users are complaining that the e-commerce giant has removed titles from their machines this week and given them refunds in their place.

What happened? The details are fuzzy, but apparently, a publisher that supplied Amazon (AMZN) with two George Orwell titles has decided that it doesn’t want to sell them via Amazon anymore. So away they went.

Readers described their experiences at this Amazon forum, and one of them included this note she said she received from Amazon customer service explaining what happened:

The Kindle edition books Animal Farm by George Orwell. Published by MobileReference (mobi) & Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) by George Orwell. Published by MobileReference (mobi) were removed from the Kindle store and are no longer available for purchase. When this occured, your purchases were automatically refunded. You can still locate the books in the Kindle store, but each has a status of not yet available. Although a rarity, publishers can decide to pull their content from the Kindle store.

Normally, I’m pretty cavalier about the complaints that people make about the evils of digital rights management–the locks and restrictions distributors often attach to digital media like music, movies and books–but this is the sort of incident that gives those gripes some gravitas. If you’re buying bits, you ought to own those bits, just as you would when you plunk down dollars for a CD, a book or any other physical item.

Doubly confusing: As far as I can tell, Amazon’s license terms don’t have any loophole that allows for this. The section on “digital content” explains that I don’t have the right to “sell, rent, lease, distribute,” etc., the stuff I buy from Amazon. But it sure looks like stuff I buy, I keep:

Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Device or as authorized by Amazon as part of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content will be deemed licensed to you by Amazon under this Agreement unless otherwise expressly provided by Amazon.

So, what am I missing here? I’ve asked Amazon for comment, but if anyone has any bright ideas, sound off in comments below.

UPDATE: Amazon says the copies it sold were “illegal”, because the publisher never had the rights to them. But it says that going forward, it won’t be removing books from customer’s Kindles “in these circumstances”.

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